consulting, as well as interviews with four different types of consultants.
Consulting: A History
Consulting has become one of the hot new careers of the twenty-first century. Long considered to be the province of people with decades of experience in an industry behind them or with an advanced degree in a subject, consulting has now become a career that nearly anyone with a little knowledge can undertake and be successful at doing. Consulting is a luxury career. People have pleasant visions of highly paid consultants sipping wine by the pool in Tahiti while casually consulting with a client on the telephone. A consultant, after all, is highly paid and self-employed. Furthermore, more and more businesses today are employing the services of consultants for a variety of reasons, and regardless of the years of experience of a particular consultant. Consulting truly is becoming the entrepreneurial career of choice in these early years of the twenty-first century. This paper examines the history of consulting, the various stages of consulting, and takes a look at four different types of consultants.
Consulting is the dream career of the twenty-first century. The actual career of consulting goes back at least one hundred years. One of the first consulting companies was referred to as an engineering consulting company. This company helped other companies in making engineering decisions. Since then, other entrepreneurs have bravely ventured out into the world of business under the banner of being a consultant. Consulting from the first seemed to many to be an ideal career. After all, what other career could one have in which one worked for oneself and the scope of one's business was to help other companies decide what business decisions they should take? Some of the earliest consulting companies in the United States were:
1925 -- George S. May created the George S. May International Company. George S. May sets himself up as a business consultant and gets two clients after mailing out fifty letters. His first client is the Chicago Flexible Shaft Company. May worked out of a basement in his home. Also, unlike most other businesses of the day which treated the client very primly, George S. May employed an aggressive pursuit of his clients (Urwick, n.d.).
1926 -- James O. McKinsey -- McKinsey was an accounting professor at Northwestern University. He founded McKinsey & Co. His company billed itself as "consultants and engineers," but the bulk of its business was in auditing the books of its clients.
1927 -- Business consultants for Chicago's Western Electric Hawthorne factory discover that the production of employees increases significantly when the lights are brightened in the building, apparently because the employees feel motivated by the attention given to them by brightening the lights.
1930s -- The Great Depression created a big demand for consultants, as businesses experiencing hard times begin hiring consultants in large numbers to help them work their way out of the mire of the Great Depression.
1940s -- Consulting gains legitimacy as a business as the government begins to hire people to consult on war time matters.
After the 1940s -- Consulting continues to gain steam as a business, finding its way into all aspects of the corporate world. Consulting is as a result today one of the most frequently started entrepreneurial businesses in the world.
Consulting is not a difficult business to set up and run. What one needs is expertise in some area and a business plan. The expertise that one has does not even need to be that great, it just needs to be slightly greater than that of the potential client. Potential clients then need to be identified and contacted. That's about it as far as setting up the business goes. Consulting does not normally require large out of pocket costs to get started, beyond the normal business cards and stationary. However, once the prospective consultant has gone into business and found a client, the consultant has to actually do something. This is where the four stages of consulting come into play. The four stages of consulting are:
In the "opening" stage, the consultant will meet with the client for the first time. During this initial meeting, the consultant will have the opportunity to introduce his or her company to the client and to position his or her company as the best possible solution to the problems of the client. The consultant can then give a marketing presentation to the client, provide the client with literature, and give the client testimonials from other customers or references to check. The opening stage is the most important stage of the consulting process, because this is when the client gets the first impression of the consultant that will either make or break the deal.
The "investigating" stage is the stage in which the consultant will ask the client a series of probing questions in order to better get an idea of the problems of the client, and to figure out how to best meet the needs of the client. This stage usually comes after the client has hired the consultant and the client and consultant are holding their first real business meeting with each other. However, it often also comes during the interviewing process, so that the consultant can determine if the needs of the client can be met by his or her company. The consultant must be careful to ask appropriate and relevant questions in this stage, because if the consultant does not get enough information or does not get the right kind of information from the client, this can affect the quality of the whole job that the consultant does for the client. A consultant can not do his or her job properly without having the relevant information from the client, and clients will not always supply the needed information without questioning. This is why this stage is so important. Most consultants conduct a large part of their business on word of mouth, and if a consultant is not thorough in his or her questioning of a client and does not do a good job as a result, future business will suffer.
Demonstrating capability" is the third stage of consulting. In this stage, the consultant has the opportunity to demonstrate to the client how the products and services of the consultant can benefit the client. This is important to the client, because if the client is going to work with a consultant, the client wants to be sure that the consultant has what the client needs. Many consultants may consult in the area that the client needs, but only a few will have the exactly right skills and services that the client desires. By questioning the client, the consultant can determine what the real needs of the client are, and can tailor his or her presentation to fit these guidelines. As long as the consultant continues to be truthful with the client, tailoring a presentation in the form of putting more or less emphasis on certain things is certainly acceptable.
Obtaining commitment" is the fourth stage of the consulting process. In this stage, the consultant obtains a commitment from the client to use the services of the consultant. No deal is final and no client secured until this commitment is obtained. Preferably, this commitment will be in writing so that it will have some legal standing. This will protect both the client and the consultant. Once the commitment is obtained, the consultant can then get to work consulting for the client and getting paid to do it.
There are four main types of consultants:
Educational consultants are consultants who consult on educational matters, normally in schools and other educational institutions, such as in the starting of a new school. Educational consultants can also help students and their families decide on which educational options are best for them to pursue. Educational consultants can help students and their families in a variety of educational matters. They can help students and their families in the selection of colleges or universities to attend, they can help with educational matters that the student is having problems with, they can help with selections of courses, and a variety of other areas relating to education. Jennifer Rhodes is an independent educational consultant in Virginia. She spoke about her job recently:
Jennifer: I get up pretty early and start calling people back who made inquiries the day before. I do this at my kitchen table or on the sofa, wherever is comfortable. After returning these calls, I work on marketing, putting my name and face out there. This can involve printing up new business cards, putting together mailers, or making telemarketing calls to prospective clients or organizations that can refer me to new clients. In the afternoon, I call and consult with ongoing clients, check up on them to see how they are doing, offer any advice I can, and see what they need help…